Earlier this year scientists celebrated one of the biggest discoveries in physics within the last century. They were elated to discover the first evidence of gravitational waves, which pretty much proved Albert Einstein’s last prediction in his theory of relativity was correct. Going down in history as one of the brightest minds to ever have lived and decades later having your work reaffirmed may just be the beginning of his brilliance, however.
There is another prediction Einstein made during his life—one whose evidence mounts more and more each day: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” There has yet to be another movement that significantly addresses—and even reverses—as many of the major health and environmental concerns out there as the vegan movement.
One study that made its rounds earlier this year explored an idealized shift toward plant-based eating and predicted that between 6 and 10 percent of the planet’s mortality rates and 29 to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions could be cut if the world went primarily vegan. Luckily, if we consider some recent trends, it seems we are already headed in this direction.
When it comes to animal suffering, eating meat, dairy and egg products are the biggest culprits worldwide, hands down. It might feel nice to exercise our outrage about dog and cat abuse we see in the news, but when 70,000,000,000 (yes, that’s billion) land animals are slaughtered globally each year—because our diet demands it—our outrage is severely misplaced.
Mercy for Animals, an animal rights non-profit organization, is known for its undercover investigations exposing the public to what goes on behind carefully concealed slaughterhouse doors. Because of their hard work people have seen the horrors of both business-as-usual practices and horrendous abuse by workers at big names such as Perdue, Tyson, Butterball, Seaboard Foods, Maple Lodge Farms and countless others.
And the public is not liking what it’s seeing. The power of the documentary has shown how businesses can have the wind knocked out of their sails from customers taking a glance at what’s behind the curtain. The explosive momentum of Blackfish and SeaWorld’s journey from scoffing denial to announcing its end to orca breeding programs is enough to see how an informed public can create real change. Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses are also feeling the heat from activists and have decided to “retire” the elephants who have lived in abuse as entertainers (yet, some of the majestic creatures will face a future in cancer research experimentation, so we still have work to do).
With climate change becoming harder and harder to deny—even though a few still cling desperately to their snowballs and lack of critical thinking—the impact of animal agriculture on the planet’s fate can also no longer be overlooked. One report from earlier this year revealed that some of the top meat and poultry producers, including Tyson and Perdue, have a much larger pollution footprint than Exxon Mobil. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that livestock and their byproducts create 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Even if those numbers are too big to fully comprehend, seeing what animal agriculture is doing to our planet with our own eyes can change hearts and minds in an instant.
There are tiny awakenings blossoming into bigger and more impactful movements in the health and medical fields, as well. This year the first plant-based medical center opened up in Washington, D.C. and other medical programs are offering residents training to help patients treat chronic health conditions with plant-based eating.
As much as it pained bacon-loving Americans to hear it, processed meat was rightfully demonized as contributing to rising cancer rates by the World Health Organization this year—adding to the knowledge we already have about its relation to heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other chronic conditions. And just this month the American Osteopathic Association released a study of 1.5 million people revealing how meat-eating raises mortality rates across the board.
So, with all this knowledge about the overwhelming impact of animal product production, how much are we really changing? The word “vegan” has become a household name in recent years as restaurants add it to their menus, grocery stores carry more veg-friendly alternatives and web surfers Google the term more and more.
In fact, vegan “meat” sales, specifically, are expected to skyrocket over the next few years. The growing success of companies such as Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat (and the anxiety-laden attacks by companies afraid of losing customers) illustrate a shift toward more conscious consumerism. Other countries have also experienced a dramatic shift toward plant-based fare. Germany’s vegetarian options have increased 600 percent in the last four years and one-third of Canadians now admit to eating less meat.
A Chatham House survey even found that people are open to the idea of taxing meat to combat its harmful effects on the environment and our health! In a world where men’s magazine GQ named a veggie burger its “best burger of the year” the industries who depend on consumers buying animal products are shaking in their boots. The proliferation of “ag-gag” laws all over the U.S. show how insecure these industries are feeling. Not only will they advocate the criminalization of recording what goes on behind their closed doors, but industries are also releasing advice on “How to Avoid Hiring an Animal Rights Activist.” Seriously.
Consumers are already demanding more “humane” animal products, mostly by looking for labels such as cage-free, pasture-raised, grass-fed, etc. Walmart joined the ranks of Costco, Wendy’s, Starbucks, Denny’s, and McDonald’s by announcing its eventual switch to cage-free eggs, showing how these “humane” demands are reaching the mainstream.
What the public will realize in time is what the industry deems humane is far from what we may envision as causing no harm. All of these trends indicate one thing: a shift toward compassion. Rather, it is a shift back toward compassion. As we grow up we are taught that empathy is sweet and admirable if it is through a child’s eyes, but weak through an adult’s.
By choosing foods and products that defy the status quo of violence and destruction we are casting a vote for kindness and conservation. We are reconnecting with the innate sense that all living things deserve a happy life. We are reminded to share with others, to not be mean to others, to clean up after ourselves—the basic lessons we learn in the most early stages of our lives. Veganism is a return to these ethics. And veganism is most certainly the future.